Friday, July 31, 2009

How I Spent My Summer Vacation


Hey, August! You suck.

It’s like I have a nice, tidy calendar in my brain. It’s fresh and white with numbers and the days of the week, as you would expect. It’s peppered with birthday parties, doctor’s appointments, beach trips – the usual. The problem is that as we meander along through the year, I have to avert my eyes. I don’t want to see August. It’s different from the other months. It pulses violently with my heartbeat. It’s a seething monster with sharp teeth just waiting to get me.

I guess you would need to know how I spent my summer vacation last year to truly understand my utter disdain for this month. I spent 27 days in August of 2008 by my mother’s side, watching her slowly die. It seems like one hundred years ago and yesterday all at the same time.

August began deep in the throes of nursing home hell. Some of her last days would be spent amongst senior citizens that had no recollection of lunch, but could tell you every detail of their childhood. She was surrounded by the cries of the forgotten who, unlike her, didn’t have relatives keeping them company all day. There was no one to help them eat or tell them they loved them or to keep the underpaid employees from stealing their last ounce of dignity. She was bed-ridden, so there I sat beside her, usually watching the Food Network or the Travel Channel and explaining to her over and over and over why I couldn’t let her come home with me. Excruciating, really.

I think the most surreal part of the summer was her move to the hospice house on August 20th. It’s a cool place if you can get past the fact that your loved one is dying on the other side of the room. You are painfully aware that any day could be the day that death finds its way back into your life. It’s real. It’s nauseating. It’s the reason they make hard liquor. There will be no miraculous recovery at this point, no drug that was just discovered to cure this awful disease. I tried my best to explain to her where we were going, but she didn’t really understand. She was never fully coherent again.

The last August Sunday of her life found me sitting in her room with my estranged brother watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Strange, I know. We stared at the very nice plasma television and ignored each other. There was no way either of us would have let our guard down long enough to acknowledge this horrible situation. The two of us – Titans of Tough with an impenetrable force field that kept our emotions at bay, and our mom was lying there between us, slowly slipping away. I can laugh as I look back now because if my mom had known what was playing on her television, she would have said in no uncertain terms, “Turn off that crap”. I’m sure of it.

She kept the doctors guessing. She seemed to be lingering long past her allotted time here on Earth, and they couldn’t predict her next move. After her doctor left the room, the nurse came to me and said softly, “Have you told her it’s okay to leave?” She told me that sometimes, at the end, a person just needs to know it’s time to go. So when we were alone, I bent down to her ear and told her so. Those were some of the hardest words I’ve ever choked out of my mouth. I wanted to vomit.

I walked into her room early on the morning of August 27th. The nurse was sitting by her bed holding her hand. She looked at me and said, “It’s going to be today”. I knew what she meant, of course, so I set about making things right the best I could. I gave her an impromptu manicure. She most certainly wouldn’t want to go through eternity with jagged, unkempt nails. I called my aunts, my husband, my sister, my brother. And waited.

I was her caretaker for the last twenty years, but for some reason, I couldn’t bear to look at her. I didn’t want to watch her take her last breaths. I didn’t want to touch her. I didn’t want that day to be my reality. I sat on the couch looking out the window as my aunt and siblings held their vigil by the bed. As she exhaled for the last time, they told me she smiled. Peace at last for her I hope.

I still pick up the phone to call her from work sometimes. I still think, “I can’t wait to hear what my Mama has to say about that”. She still gets mail here. It’s a slap in the face every time.

So that’s why August sucks. I don’t know how many years I’ll feel this way. Probably forever if I was guessing. I’m really bad about holding a grudge. I’m going to put on my sunglasses and trudge through the best I can. Oh September, please find me soon.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Freak of the Week


The force is strong with this middle-aged Mama. I possess a supernatural power that has been quietly brewing for years. Only recently uncovered, this energy was unleashed by the seemingly innocent act of opening a Facebook account. Yes, my friends, I am a Freak Magnet.

 For my entire adult life, I have been deemed by my husband as the “Most Un-Approachable Woman on the Face of the Planet".      Honestly, it’s a title I relish.  I may even get it printed on a sash one day. People who know me in real life probably think I’m aloof and distant. I just like to think that I’m eccentric and introspective. I have quietly slipped through life mostly unnoticed. I don’t say very much. I don’t drive a flashy car.  I'm not beautiful like Angelina Jolie nor do I have the quick wit of Jon Stewart.   I just wear my black pants and black shirt, and quickly turn the other way if I see you at the grocery store, deftly avoiding unwanted chitchat.       It’s not that I don’t care what your kids are up to at school or where your family is heading for their next fabulous vacation, not at all. I’m just an unsociable wallflower, and that's okay with me.

So why are the freaks coming out of the woodwork to send me completely inappropriate Facebook messages?  These are people who barely know me at best. They must remember my plaid skirts and Izod shirts from junior high and high school, but certainly they have no carnal knowledge of me. Just thinking that I may have been the object of their unrequited affection brings one word to mind – Eww.       (Okay, so that's not really a word.) What gives them the idea that I would enjoy knowing they were thinking of me last night while watching "The Breakfast Club", or that they regret not asking me out on a date a quarter century ago?  You can still be a loser even if you ARE the owner of a high-end sports car or high-powered executive position.  Maybe I should make that my next Facebook status.

I have studied my Facebook page with the eyes of a middle-aged pervert.       gNo cleavage in my profile picture. Check.  No pictures of me with my tongue sticking out and a Miller Lite lifted high in the Southern “raise hell” tradition. Check.   No quiz results for “What Sexual Position Are You” or “What Kind of Lover Are You”. Check.                      Where am I going wrong here? I’m a dork even on a good day.                         Does my profile say something to contradict the real me?

I have confirmed with other Facebook friends that I’m not the only woman (or man for that matter) who receives sordid invitations from people they only vaguely remember from the elementary school cafeteria. I even had a twenty-year-old acquaintance tell me “You sho are purdy, Miss Lynda”. I told him that he needs to get out more, and that I’m old enough to be his Mama - literally.  I guess a few beers and the security of a computer screen make some people type things they would never say face to face, especially if they were looking into the steely glare of a woman who had to clean up dog poop, make cupcakes for a school party, and then run 6 miles in 100% humidity.

Okay, I’ll admit it. Secretly, it makes me feel good that, at forty years of age, guys are taking notice. (Even if they are mostly guys that I would never give the time of day to.) I’ll let them make their comments. It does wonders for my ego. I’ll giggle under my breath when no one is looking, check my hair in the mirror, and then hit “Delete”.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pass the needles and the pork rinds, please...



My ultrasound is two weeks from today. Don't get too excited, now. This isn't an ultrasound where I'm finding out if it's a boy or a girl. This is actually much less frightening than the idea of being pregnant at forty. No, in fourteen days, I get to find out if the tumor in my neck is growing.

I am the reigning Queen in the Land of Hypochondria. I have ruled this land since childhood. It is a dark, scary place where every leg twitch is surely a blood clot, and every twinge of pain in the head is most certainly a brain tumor. I am hyper aware of every sensation in my body, and it is completely exhausting. The ironic part of my hypochondria is that when it is found that I truly have an affliction of sorts, I am usually calm about it. I guess because I have imagined the worst scenario possible and, upon hearing that it isn't so bad, I'm relieved.

I have been down this road before. Seven years ago, the first tumor was found. The doctor wanted to determine if it was cancerous before deciding to operate, so that meant a biopsy, a needle going into the front of my neck to remove cells from the tumor. The doctor tells me, "OK, now when the needle goes in, whatever you do, don't swallow". Now, when someone tells you not to swallow, what is the first thing you desperately need to do? Swallow, of course. The doctor then proceeded to take ten samples from the tumor. TEN SAMPLES! Ten times that needle was introduced to the tumor, and ten times I managed to refrain from swallowing. I was paralyzed with fear, so it was easy for me.

The results were inconclusive, so under the knife I went. When they opened my neck, they found it was more involved than first realized, with the tumor being wrapped around my vocal chords. I was really sorry that this didn't result in a new, sexy, Demi Moore kind of voice. But no, I was simply left with a delicate scar running across the base of my neck. Lucky for me, the tumor was benign.

So here I go again. If the tumor has grown, they are coming after me with the needles again. If not, it buys me a little more time. They can't guarantee that this tumor is benign like the first one. I have to admit that the idea of having cancer does scare me a bit, but I'm looking on the bright side. I hate my hair any way, so if I lose it, maybe it will come back thick and luxurious. And who among us wouldn't enjoy a little paid time away from work? Maybe some doctor-ordered rest and relaxation would do me good. Plus, I hear chemo works wonders when it comes to weight loss.

What bothers me most is that I am the only person in my family that exercises, eats well, and maintains a body weight that would make an insurance salesman weep with pride. I actually possess the power to go into a seafood restaurant in Calabash, NC and not eat a hush puppy when presented with the opportunity. Amazing, I know. So how did I get stuck with all the diseases?

This may cause me to re-think my lifestyle. After all is said and done, I might just find myself bellying up to the bar with a cigarette dangling from my mouth, a swill beer in one hand, and a greasy cheeseburger in the other, for I have been misled. Apparently when used outside the boundaries of accepted moderation, these vices offer the user a powerful disease-fighting capability. One that yoga, grilled chicken and salad simply can't touch.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Black Sheep


I have a crazy sister. Well, that’s probably unfair because my family is completely dysfunctional, with each member contributing equally to the chaos. You have to imagine that with a family of 6 kids, parents who married far too young, a father that served in the Korean War and then brought home with him Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, there might just be a crazy one out of the bunch.

She’s Bobbie to us, Barbara to the Social Security Administration. Everyone jokes that they could see the little devil waiting to get out even pre-kindergarten. She was born in late 1950’s Germany to a mother that was barely holding on to her sanity with 4 kids under six years of age. Our father was an Army man and frequently away on duty. Because she was so beautiful, Bobbie was doted on and spoiled. All that changed when my brother came along. If you ask me, this was the beginning of her descent into The Dark Side. The classic middle child syndrome.

Bobbie scared the hell out of me. She was in middle school when I arrived. Her path was all but guaranteed by then. She was the wild child – the Black Sheep. I remember so clearly an episode when she engaged herself in a fight with our older sister. Bobbie was holding her against the kitchen counter with a knife pressed to her neck. I was probably all of five years old at the time. I was terrified and vowed to always stay on her good side. She became pregnant at sixteen. I vaguely remember a quickie wedding, and then becoming an aunt in first grade. She married a tall, skinny pothead. Surprised?

Her life was the stuff of soap operas if soap operas took place in trailer parks. She and her husband fought constantly, and the smell of marijuana and beer are what I remember most about her. She made my mother cry so many times that it became commonplace. “Oh, Bobbie’s pregnant again." “Bobbie’s left Eddie again.” "Bobbie doesn’t have enough money for food again”. Eventually, my mom just made sure the kids were taken care of, and left Bobbie to her own devices.

Bobbie left her husband and kids and took off for parts unknown. There were many years when we had no idea where she was living or if she was even living at all. She would call occasionally to say that she was in Arizona or California and that she was “just fine”. She was mooching off friends and strangers, and experiencing a life that would be a nightmare for most normal folks.

She ended up back in Rock Hill when I was in my twenties. She was unfortunately incarcerated for a DUI, and I was faced with the grim task of going to the city jail and delivering the news to her that our father had died. How the hell did I draw the short straw on that one? Something so personal and gut wrenching performed in front of an audience of less than caring officers. I will never forget that day.

A funny thing happened, though. As she was approaching her fifties, she finally became an adult. She gave up her vices and decided to go back to school for her GED. She settled down, married, and was looking forward to joining the ranks of “Adults Who Are Gainfully Employed”.

Just as tragedies seem to follow her, she never got to secure that grown-up job. A little over a year ago, Bobbie and her husband were sitting on their motorcycle at a stoplight with two of their best friends. A drunk driver was speeding behind them and didn’t stop in time. He hit the foursome at full speed. Bobbie’s best friend died at the scene. Bobbie and her husband were permanently disabled from the accident. Her husband lost his leg, and is confined to a wheel chair. He suffered brain damage and requires constant care. Bobbie recovered, but is no longer able to work due to her injuries. Simply put, they struggle.

She soldiers on, though. Often, the cards we are dealt suck. It’s just that simple. She managed to walk across the stage 6 months after her accident and accept her diploma. She’s tough that way. Despite the somewhat shady life she has led, I am so proud of her. That Black Sheep has shown us all a thing or two about what it means to be strong.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Desperate, but not serious...


I have been fascinated lately by the idea of a desperate woman. I am not referring to the Wisteria Lane variety either. I mean real women. The kind of woman that is so completely driven out of her mind by love or lust, that she does things she never imagined she was capable of doing. By all accounts, a woman who brushes her teeth and commutes to work like most of us, but inside she is simmering, about to boil over. You can’t see it usually, but this woman is barely functioning and only steps away from that slippery slope that will plunge her into “Crazy Psycho Bitchdom”. It is usually the land of no return. Dates are going to be pretty hard to come by once the story of her break down hits the news wire.

You don’t have to be Jerry Springer-worthy to be a desperate woman. Although that breed is certainly highly entertaining, there are many intelligent, well-placed women who have blown it all by acting on that fleeting, desperate impulse that seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Love and lust do not discriminate with regard to I.Q. or economic status. They will sucker punch you whether your home is in a trailer park or a gated community.

I am reminded of the female astronaut caught in a love triangle with her NASA co-workers. Complete desperation put this married mother of three behind the wheel of her car, driving across the country in a diaper with ill intent towards her romantic rival. She swore that she only wanted to “talk” to her. I have often wondered if she would have had the guts to go through with whatever dastardly plan she had concocted for the “other woman”. My money is on the Crazy Psycho Bitch. I think she had committed and was willing to do whatever it was going to take to win back the love she so desperately desired. What she failed to take into account is that most men frown on murder when it comes to choosing a life partner.

Sometimes that desperate woman loves you to death – literally. It‘s the old “If I can’t have you then no one can have you” logic. (If you can call that logic…) If you are a millionaire athlete with a wife and a bevy of girlfriends, take heed not to make too many promises. Emotions run high and can reach dangerous levels at certain times of the month. You take a young woman who is secretly teetering on the verge of CPB (Crazy Psycho Bitchdom) and add to that skyrocketing hormone levels and a cheating man. Well, let’s just say you better hide the weapons people, because that’s a memorial service in the making right there.

I will admit to my own excursion into CPB. I was a senior in high school. I had been dating the “love of my life” for two years. He was a sophomore at Clemson, and I was sure he was the ONE. He, on the other hand, decided that college girls were exponentially more fun than high school girls and dumped me. I knew that he was just confused and maybe seeing me and talking it out would fix this mess. So I awoke on a school day, dressed, left a note for my mom, and took her car keys. I hit the road for Clemson. I was headed out on a Road Trip for Love. It didn’t work though. No big surprise there. Todd didn’t want me back. It was a hard pill to swallow, and I felt like such a fool. My mom didn’t even punish me because I’m sure she could see the shame I was feeling. The things we do for love.

I think most regular folks are willing to simply live a life of quiet desperation. Life isn’t fair, and you don’t always get what you want. That “want” could be the cute guy in the next cubicle or the mansion on the hill. It doesn’t matter. That embarrassing act of desperation isn’t going to make Mr. Right love you. That’s not how this game works.

I’m glad that there are women out there who are willing to throw caution to the wind and give up their dignity to fight for that man of their dreams. (It really doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have all his teeth and hasn’t been gainfully employed for eighteen months. She loves him.) It sure does make for interesting TV, and keeps Maury Povich and Jerry Springer out of the unemployment line.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sharon


I came across a picture the other day of my best friend from school. That stringy, blonde hair, wide grin and glasses - I couldn’t contain the smile that spread across my face at the sight of her. Some of the best times of my life took place in her company. We were inseparable for many years, and I sorely miss her.

We met in seventh grade. We had an immediate connection, mostly, I think, because we were both a little on the quirky side. Neither of us could really be classified as a beauty back then. We were living in the shadow of over-achieving older siblings. She had the beautiful, smart sister who was a cheerleader and the Homecoming Queen. I had an older brother who was brilliant, earning awards, accolades and being accepted into the Air Force Academy. I had never met anyone that understood my complete silliness and lack of reverence the way she did. It was comforting to have a best friend to help navigate those sometimes stormy waters known as junior high and high school.

Our adventures were many. In the winter of our ninth grade year, we went together on a church trip to Gatlinburg. Mind you, this was a southern Baptist church, so you can imagine that the chaperones held pretty tightly to the reigns so as not to have any levity from us kids. Ah, but my friend and I were rebels. We weren’t going to let them keep us down. Not us. We were cool, edgy. Hey, we even listened to the Violent Femmes. One afternoon, we were given a small window of time to walk around town. I remember it like it was yesterday. We spiked our hair as much as we could, tied bandanas around our necks, and hit the streets. We hoped that the locals would stare at us, and they did, although probably not for the reasons we were hoping. As we walked, I turned to her with excitement and said, “I feel SO PUNK right now!” To which she replied, “Oh my gosh! I DO TOO!” - we simply delighted in our almost-punk-ness.

As members of the French Club in tenth grade, we participated in a field trip to the Biltmore House in Asheville. I remember the glares from the older kids on the bus as my friend and I sang “Come On Eileen” nearly the whole way there. Always looking for a way to be different, we decided to exchange outfits once we arrived. That’s right. We went into the restroom at the Biltmore House, undressed and switched our clothes. We over heard people saying, “They are so weird”, and that was exactly the reaction we wanted.

From marching band camp to cruising Cherry Road to double dating at the Pix theater to summer nights at the “Magic Attic”, it seemed the good times would never end. But as we all know, nothing lasts forever. By twelfth grade, we started to slip away from each other. We both had “serious” boyfriends and spent less and less time together. We squabbled over things that now escape me, and after our graduation, we never saw each other again.

Twenty years later we reconnected via e-mail. We update each other occasionally and exchange Christmas cards. I never made another friend like her. Two peas in a pod, we were. I am confident that, even at our age, we could still get into some trouble should we ever reunite. Unfortunately, I took that silly, irreverent part of me and neatly tucked it away. I pull it out sometimes when I’m sure no one is looking. You know what? I'll bet she does too.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Wal-Mart...


***WARNING – This blog may contain material deemed offensive and politically incorrect by overly sensitive individuals. Parental discretion is advised.***

Okay, so I’ll admit it. There are days when I simply must visit Wal-Mart. I generally try to avoid it like heavy construction on the interstate during rush hour, but there are times when I am left with no choice. You know, like when you need citronella, tampons, potting soil, crayons, and corn on the cob. If you don’t have all day to run around town, the Super Wal-Mart gets the job done.

Today was one of those unavoidable days. You know, I could get into the various political and social/moral reasons why I hate the place, but it’s really not that complicated. I decided to use my trip today as sort of a fact-finding mission to analyze why I hold such contempt for this behemoth of discount retailers.

The parking lot – Not only has everyone lost their basic driving skills and courtesies, I can NEVER get a good spot. Why the hell is this parking lot full at all hours of the day and night? When my mom was alive, I had the unfortunate duty of carting her to Wal-Mart at least weekly. She had a handicap sticker, but forget that dream. The handicap spots are the first to be occupied, and they stay that way all day. My theory is that a large percentage of the clientele is either over 80 or relying on MY income to support them due to some “unfortunate circumstance” that has left them unable to find adequate employment. Wow, that was a harsh and somewhat rude generalization, but I’m sticking to it. (I warned you this might not be pretty.)

There is a blood pressure machine at the entrance of the store – Probably because of the parking lot, I’m guessing. Today there was a line of people waiting to see if they were on the verge of a stroke….at Wal-Mart. I know for certain that I was.

Smelly people – Of course, there are smelly people everywhere, but there is an unusually high concentration there. Here is the irony for today. One of the items on my list was deodorant. As I was perusing the many choices for remaining fresh and dry, I noticed a strange and unpleasant odor nearby. I slowly looked beside me to find a smiling caballeros staring back at me. Oh yeah, he had donned the cowboy hat and shiny boots – the works. The smell was making my hair flat, but he was working on it – obviously.

What country is this anyway? – Another item on my list today was coffee. I’m sure that I’m not alone when I classify this item as a “staple” of the American diet. All grocery stores have directional signs on each aisle to give you a short list of what you will find there. I walked up and down that damn store over and over thinking, "I must SURELY be missing the 'coffee' sign". Coffee ranks right up there with milk and sugar, right? No, I wasn’t missing it. They didn’t have coffee on their list of “must haves”, but they did have an aisle sign that listed “Hispanic Foods”. (Insert wistful sigh here.) It was an entire aisle dedicated to all things labeled in a language I don’t speak. This may just be exclusive to York County, though…

The checkout – No “Hello”. Not even a “Go to hell because I hate my job” kind of greeting. All I got was a blank stare and then the total I owed for my loot. There are times when I feel like screaming, “IF YOU HATE YOUR JOB SO MUCH THEN GO TO WORK AT THE DMV. THIS ATTITUDE IS EXPECTED THERE!”, but I refrain. I smile politely and slink away, all the while swearing that I will never, ever patronize this hell on Earth again.

I will, though. And each time I will cuss under my breath, and look down on the muffin-topped teenaged mothers who are pacifying their toddlers with a bottle of Cherry Coke.

God Bless the USA.